What is Kamayan: Traditional Filipino Feast?

21 Nov 2022 - Category: Blog /
What is Kamayan

Do you love to try lots of different dishes when you go out to eat? Are you the kind of person that likes to share their food and try a little bit of everything? If so, then Kamayan may be the feast you are looking for.

In recent years, the Philippines has become a popular spot for foodies. While the culture, climate and people draw many to the islands of the Philippines, the food is also one of the standout attractions. And one of the most well-known Filipino culinary traditions is Kamayan.

In this blog we’ll be exploring Kamayan, what it means and how you can enjoy a traditional Filipino Feast yourself by highlighting a number of topics including:

What is Kamayan?

Kamayan is a traditional Filipino feast eaten by hand. No utensils are required. The idea is that food is laid out along large banana leaves and prepared for a group to eat with their hands. This communal-style buffet is a tradition of Filipino cuisines. If you have Filipino family or friends then you may have eaten Kamayan and enjoyed eating a variety of Filipino foods with your hands.

Kamayan is the Tagalog word for “eating with the hands”. In the Visayan languages Kamayan is also known as kinamot or kinamut. More than describing the physical act of eating with the hands, Kamayan also relates to the communal nature of eating.

The Filipino tradition of eating with family and friends in a communal style is an important part of Filipino life. When the word Kamayan is used this way it is also known as Salu-salo.

The history of Kamayan

The practice of Kamayan is hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. It is a pre-colonial tradition and survived through Spanish colonial rule over the islands of the Philippines. Kamayan was described in detailed accounts by Venetian scholar and explorer Antonio Pigafetta during the Magellan expedition. There are also many records made by Spanish missionaries during the Spanish colonial period about how people would gather, lay food across banana leaves and eat together without utensils.

Kamayan has always been about sharing and eating with your hands. Wooden ladles and spoons were used for serving and cooking but they were never used for eating. To a large extent, the practice of Kamayan was allowed during the Spanish colonial period. However, during the American colonial period from 1898 to 1946, Kamayan was frowned upon and American dining etiquette with forks, knives and spoons was strongly promoted.

What is a Boodle Fight?

A Boodle Fight is a meal in the true spirit of Kamayan. Boodle is military slang for contraband food, sweets, candy and ice cream. A Boodle Fight is where diners practice Kamayan while standing shoulder to shoulder in a line on both sides of a table filled with food that has been placed on top of a long banana-leaf. This is a military tradition and an example of how Kamayan is practiced beyond the family environment.

Before a Boodle Fights begins the most senior military officer in attendance will usually call out the traditional command: “Ready on the left, Ready on the Right, Commence Boodle Fight”. At which time all the diners will tuck in to all the tastiest Filipino treats and the meal will begin.

What food and dishes can be found in Kamayan?

In homes and halls all around the Philippines, a variety of wonderful and tasty dishes can be found arrayed along banana leaves (in northern Philippines large breadfruit (tipuho) leaves are used instead). These include:

    • Grilled chicken legs (Inihaw na manok) - a classic Filipino dishes that uses succulent chicken and lemon-lime soda
    • Garlic fried rice (sinangag)- a staple of every Kamayan. This delicious side dish is perfect for every occasion. Diners will often mold the warm rice into a ball and eat it with some of the meat and vegetables on the table.
    • Grilled shrimp with lime (Inihaw na hipon) - a traditional squid-based Filipino favorite.
    • Grilled adobo kalbi ribs (inihaw na tadyang) - inspired by braised short-ribs, these.
  • Leche flan or Creme Caramel - a classic Filipino dessert made with egg yolks, sugar, milk and vanilla extract. This dish is steamed in a small baking pan called Llanera.

Preparing the Kamayan Feast

Interested in enjoying your own Filipino feast. Here are the basic steps that go into creating a great Kamayan for your loved ones.

  • Preparing the banana leaves and setting the table.

Integral to any Kamayan are the banana leaves or breadfruit leaves that form the physical base of the meal. These large leaves are easy to get and will be used as platters. Usually the leaves are coated with cornstarch which needs to be removed by lightly toasting them on each side. Once you’ve heated them they will soften and will be ready to be placed on the table. They should normally be placed on top of a layer of newspaper that is used to protect the table.

  • Laying the food on the leaves

Then you begin to lay the food. Many Filipinos will begin by creating a long mound of rice in the middle of the banana leaves. On top of the rice, smaller banana leaves will be inserted to create bowl-like structures into which dishes like machado, Filipino beef, crab curry, and grilled chicken will be served. In between the main dishes you can place grilled and pickled vegetables, and a variety of fruit. The food will be laid out evenly down the table to ensure that everyone gets enough.

To learn more about the experience of Kamayan and the connection with Filipino culture and community check out this great article, “Getting in Touch Through Kamayan, the Ultimate Filipino Feast” from

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